Dr. Maryanne Wolf at CSUN: On Reading, Empathy and Saying Dyslexia
By Cheri Rae
When magic happens: The brilliant and enthusiastic researcher Dr. Maryanne Wolf has been one of my sheroes, ever since I read her exploration of the reading brain, Proust and the Squid. That book was as challenging as anything I’ve ever encountered, and a thrill to engage and understand—the epitome of deep reading. It was one of the first books I read when I was immersed in learning about dyslexia, and it provided such intellectual grounding for additional knowledge about its characteristics, as well as current research, the brain, and the complexity of the act of reading.
Since then, I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Wolf a couple years ago when she was a featured speaker at a conference on neuro-cognitive diversity at Chapman University. She graciously signed my copy of her then-new book, Tales of Literacy for the 21st Century. I’ve heard her speak about reading on NPR, and was delighted to learn last year of her move to Southern California and the establishment of the Center for Dyslexia, Diverse Learners and Social Justice at the UCLA Graduate School of Education.
Oh, how I love that combination as a field of study!
So last week, I was delighted when a dear friend of mine sent me an invitation to a talk by Dr. Wolf at California State University, Northridge—which happens to be my alma mater. A lot has change since I studied political science on that campus, and it was wonderful to return with a whole new focus in mind—and another book to savor.
Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World is the prolific author’s newest volume. It is an exploration of the importance of reading, deeply engaging with literature, and how technology is changing us in ways we may not even realize in the moment. In her comments, she discussed how reading novels helps develop empathy, how skimming has become the new norm, and how we need more of the former, less of the latter, to protect our common humanity, even our democracy.
Dr. Wolf’s presentations never fail to inform, entertain and encourage additional understanding of critical thinking and how the amazing brain changes depending on what we actually do with it. And one more thing: When I asked her about the use of the word dyslexia, she was adamant: “Say dyslexia!” she said.
Who can argue with that?
I spent five hours yesterday on gridlocked Southern California freeways to spend two hours in the company of a warm, compassionate and thoughtful intellectual powerhouse who has added a great deal to our understanding of dyslexia. And I’d do it again tomorrow, if I had the chance!